It always starts with a name. Sometimes a familiar name from the Netherlands: Delft, Ameland, Nederweert-Eind. Sometimes with merely vague associations: Oldenburg, Appeltern, Eke-Nazareth.
And in few cases it does not ring a bell at all: Waltrop, Rhenen, Wroclaw.
At first acquaintance it suffices to just read the name: Wroclaw. When you let the letters sink in, you experience grandeur as well as the detachment that suits a respectable Habsburg Empire-city in dark Europe; nostalgic and distinguished. As long as you keep your distance, the image is correct: The grand old university, baroque monasteries and churches from all ages: too much and too many. Only when stepping closer, problems arise: where are you going to play?

In every day Polish speech the w is pronounced v. Sometimes even f. The c in every day speech appears to be pronounced tsj, and the l –although in Polish accompanied by a little wing, making it into a t- is confined to a light brush of the tongue against the palate. A vrótsjaf-sound emerges.
Away goes the grandeur.
Especially when pronounced in the right way: a bit grumpy and in the front of the mouth. Evidently, if Dutch were to sound as if you can hardly speak because of a difficult throat condition, according to foreigners, Polish sounds as if you have a severe palatal condition. The name of the city sounds like a sputtering kick-starter or like a curse: vrótsjaf”……… vrótsjaf………damn you, vrótsjaf.

But the grumpy sound is not inappropriate: chipped and broken sidewalks can be seen everywhere in the city, as well as miserable flats surrounded by muddy land with carelessly parked cars on it. Little dry grass seems to have the sole purpose of indicating walking paths made for themselves by the people while finding their way in life. The only ‘ornamental paving’ consists of thousands of crown caps in the sandy city parks.

As a neat Dutchman, you know that you will have to see through these different layers in order to – surprisingly smoothly – find yourself on one of the most beautiful squares I have ever stood on: the Rynek (pronounced reeneck), where a three day street theatre festival is held every year. There (although only a Dutchman) you are allowed to play in a grand international field. And it is then that a small miracle happens: before the eyes of a grand, eager, and receptive audience. Colleagues come from every corner of the world: a very French Frenchman with a wonderful silhouette theatre, a contemplative Hussar from the Krim with a huge handlebar moustache playing his zither for days wearing traditional clothing, or the bands form the Ukraine whom you will feel connected to after just a few days; perhaps because of the fact that communication can only take place using gestures and kindness.

Every theatre training course teaches that the stage on which you play, in that particular moment, has to be your place. You have to own the stage.

In his career as a racing cyclist, Raymond Poulidor has fought against Jaques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. Afterwards he declared that the three of them have won the Tour de France ten times: Anquetil has won five times, and Merckx has won five times.

Parallel to this anecdote I can say, without false modesty:
“the Rynek in Wroclaw?
That is my square!”

Someren, 19 July 2002
Toon Maas

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